By Jeffrey Vasquez
You know I don't own them. All characters and settings are used here without permission, except for those that I created myself. I can use them, because I gave myself permission to do so. So, Nyah!
Many of you may note that the Imperial Family is a bit larger than it should be. Naruhito was married in 1993 to Princess Masako, and Princess Aiko wasn't born until 2001. Here everyone is a little bit older than that for the sake of my story.
* arun2110 – Cited my super faux pas in regards to the science nuclear blasts – I re-wrote the end to hopefully seem a bit more realistic. He also pointed out that the Prime Minister was a doofus. That was pretty much what I was shooting for. I wanted the guy to come across as a puppet, rather than a true politician. He fails big time in a crisis of this nature. I've tweaked some of the opening interaction between the Senshi and the PM, so hopefully this will be a bit more obvious now.
* Also, thank you to all those who have stuck with me thus far. We are in the home stretch; three more chapters or so before we're all done!
(oo0/8/0oo)Progeny Chapter 11
Leaving the hotel was something akin to Ranma's second greatest nightmare. Cameras were flashing, men were yelling unintelligible things at him, and girls were screaming their undying love for him. It was a hundred, no a thousand times worse than their exodus from Tokyo Tower the night before.
The JSDF and Law Enforcement were out in force, but that didn't make Ranma feel any better. The newness of his past memories already had him on edge, couple that with a visit to the Imperial Palace and the howling mob and it was little wonder that the young martial artist was on the verge of panic. Instincts honed over ten thousand years in the past suddenly came rushing to the fore, and Ranma subconsciously found himself striding in front of Usagi scanning the area for weapons and ill intent. It took him three quarters of the way to the government limo to realize what he was doing, and another three steps to shake off the surprise enough to get back to it.
It was the perfect opportunity for an assassin to strike…luckily, no one did.
Once Usagi, Ami, and the rest of the first limo's passengers were situated, Ranma broke from his vigilance and entered the car. He found himself reflexively sending out a passive aural scan of the driver before he even understood what he was doing. The technique wasn't exactly magical, nor was it truly a chi technique. It fell somewhere in the grey area between the two and Ranma was having a devil of a time remembering how it was done correctly. Still, if memory served, the driver was clean of ill intent. The only thing Ranma got from the stoic faced gentleman was a strong feeling of lust, which was completely understandable considering the outfits that Pluto had brought for the Senshi to wear. Ranma had more than a few thoughts himself when he saw Ami leaving her mother's suite.
Each of the Senshi wore the traditional gown of their respective kingdoms, complete with all the finery and pomp that went along with them. Simply put, they were well and truly goddesses to behold.
Ami's outfit was a diaphanous, translucent, blue fabric that was wrapped in layers around her body. It did nothing to hide her athletic figure, and the only thing that truly preserved her modesty was the stunning number of gold necklaces that covered her from the base of her neck to just below the bottom of her breasts. A chain-mail belt of gold and rubies was wrapped around her waist; much like a mini-skirt and Ranma had a difficult time taking his eyes off the swaying mesh of metal and jewels. She also wore a stylized Egyptian crown carved from ivory, jade, and lapis lazuli, as well as a pair of gold bracers that matched the ones that he now sported himself. With her eyes lined with coal, her lips painted blood-red, and the diamond-covered symbol of Mercury directly over her heart, Ami was beyond exotic – she was magical.
Yet, Ranma had to admit, that each of the Senshi shared this trait with the Princess of Mercury. Usagi looked like a living breathing angel, while Rei could have stepped exotically veiled from the pages of the Arabian Nights. Makoto wore a sheath dress that seemed to be made from iridescent scales, and hugged her in ways that were criminal. Minako wore something that looked equal parts cloud and light, with a strategically placed flower or three. Her mother, not to be out done by her daughter, wore one just like it. If Ami pushed the bonds of decency, then it was certain that Minako and her mom had utterly destroyed them. Her father was still trying, unsuccessfully mind you, to wrap his wife and daughter in a bed sheet.
The rest of the Senshi were just as stylish, from the elegant Michiru dressed in a gown of pearls to mysteriously veiled Hotaru in her richly embroidered black silks. The plainest among them were Haruka and Pluto, but even they seemed like goddesses next to most super models. There was no doubt that they would be setting fashion trends for the next several years to come.
The parents matched their daughters (much to the embarrassment of Minako's father), or in Ranma's case – son, in both style and colors. This above all else made Nodoka smile when Pluto presented her with an ornate black gown decorated in tiny silver crescent moons, so that she could match the stately black and silver dress uniform Ranma was wearing. It had been a shimmering platinum color when Ranma put it on, but for some reason the color changed moments later. Pluto had been beside herself, but had to admit that the more serious colors seemed to suit Ranma better. Mamoru brought up the rear, wearing the traditional costume of Old Terra. He seemed more than a bit girly with the fur lined cape and rapier, but who was Ranma to judge?
The parade route from the hotel was lined with people hoping for a glimpse of the Senshi behind the tinted bulletproof glass of the limos. Ranma was thankful that no one could see inside, especially after the hail of rocks was thrown by a group of surly men. It was the first sign of negativity they had seen, beyond a few passing comments on television, and Usagi didn't take it too well. She put up a brave front, but Ranma could feel her distress from where he sat. She and the others watched anxiously as the police swooped down on the perpetrators. The arrest was brief and violent, showing the group just how serious the government was taking the situation.
Ranma couldn't help but feel completely out of his depth.
The motorcade arrived at the Imperial Palace amidst another lightning storm of camera flashes. However, unlike the feeding frenzy of the hotel, the atmosphere at the Palace was much more restrained and reserved. The air was still oppressive to Ranma – it was just a different type of weight. He still felt claustrophobic, but there was a sense of age to everything here that hadn't been with him before. He exited first and held the door for the others, much to the consternation of Pluto. He could already tell that she was going to give him a lecture after the dinner was done. Old instinctual habits were hard to break though, and Ranma was certain that he was going to have to fight for his freedoms now like never before.
They were greeted and received with all the formality, pomp, and circumstance of visiting dignitaries. Everything was done with the careful attention to detail and manners that the Japanese are famous for, and again Ranma was left feeling like a fish out of water. It was only Ami's careful coaching this afternoon and a bunch of fuzzy memories of Serenity's Court that saved him from looking like a fool.
The initial meeting with the Emperor and his family was strangely anti-climactic – pleasant but still lacking something. The man was very approachable and had a ready warmth that brought a genuine smile to Ranma's face immediately. It wasn't until he met the Prime Minister that Ranma felt the weight of politics start to assert itself. The young warrior couldn't help but gauge the man as he would any threat to his peace, and what he saw staring back at him was not a man. It was a shark wearing a man's skin. The Prime Minister wasn't truly evil in the way that Marut was evil, but he wasn't exactly clean and pure either. If anything, the experience only served to solidify his earlier feelings of mistrust.
Others were introduced in a whirlwind of names and pleasantries, but it was the last three people that grabbed Ranma's attention most. The three women were the most disturbing people he'd ever had the privilege of meeting – that, in and of itself, pretty much said everything. He wasn't sure that there was one simple thing that set him off; maybe it was because they were introduced as his aunts, or because each of the triplets could have been a female Genma (had they less hair and worn a dirty gi). Either way Ranma, and many of the other Senshi, walked away feeling just a little more unclean. Had they not been in public, he was certain that even Usagi would have wiped her hands on her dress to get rid of the feeling. Thankfully the Prime Minister stepped forward and bowed to Usagi.
"It is our hope that you will feel welcome here Serenity-sama."
"The reception has been both warm and wonderful, Mr. Prime Minister."
Usagi bowed respectfully from the waist, but not deeply enough to declare herself of a station lower than the man. This seemed to stir quiet a silent reaction in the auras of those gathered – especially from the politicians in attendance. The Emperor seemed more than mildly amused if Ranma was reading things right.
"We thank you for your gracious hospitality." She bowed a bit deeper to the Emperor, but still remained aloof and in control. "We extend our heartfelt thanks to all who have worked so hard to make tonight such a magical evening."
She turned to Pluto and nodded. As the stately woman stepped forward, her arms were suddenly full of a long, silk wrapped bundle. This caused quite the stir among the security contingent, and Ranma couldn't help but grin at the tension that filled the air around the other politicians. They finally seemed to get the idea that the Senshi were honest to goodness magical girls. From his position opposite Serenity, Ranma could tell that the gift was a pole arm of some kind – a naginata or a yari perhaps.
Pluto knelt low and lifted the bundle to the Emperor. He accepted the gift graciously with a nod and turned his attention back to Usagi. She urged him enthusiastically, contrary to custom, to open the gift before the gathered guests. He attended her request with great care and precision, until at last the magnificent weapon was revealed.
Ranma, in all of his travels, had never come across it's like or equal. The lacquered black wood of the haft was polished to a mirror finish, while the long blade of the naginata caught the light in such a way as to seem aflame. It was a work of art; there was no doubt about it.
"This is 'Honoo no Tenshi' – the Flame of Heaven." Usagi grinned excitedly as she motioned to the weapon. The Emperor and his eldest son gasped in recognition and looked at the Moon Princess with wide eyes.
"But this…this can't be!" Prince Narahito exclaimed. "It was lost in 842 A.D., when Emperor Saga died. He entrusted it to his most favored geisha, who disappeared right after his death."
"And she has held it against the day it would be needed again." Pluto smiled softly. "The coming of that day is at hand, and thus I return it to your Majesty in the hopes that it will not only guard this august house and all who descend from it, but all of Japan in the days ahead." The stunned silence at this revelation left more than one jaw wagging as she bowed to the Crown Prince before slowly rising and returning to her place just behind Usagi's right shoulder.
Emperor Akihito traced a naked finger along the haft, causing the weapon to hum and the blade to twinkle with a corona of multi-colored light. More than one person gasped at the supernatural event. If only that had been the last surprise of the evening….
As soon as Pluto was settled, Usagi nodded to Rei. When the shrine maiden stood, the veil of gold covering her face shimmered and chimed hypnotically. All eyes tracked her movements as she made her way to each woman of the Imperial House, as well as the Prime Minister's wife. At each she paused and drew a blessing of flames in air above their heads and then produced an elegant box from seemingly nowhere to present to the Empress.
Rather than urging her to open it, Usagi directed Rei to lift the lid for the Empress. When the Princess of Mars did, the room was bathed in a soft white glow that made more than one person giggle. Ranma felt incredibly happy…happier than he'd ever felt before in his life. His spirit felt clean and his worries distant. He could just make out a large baseball sized pearl, nestled in a nest of navy blue silk. When the Empress turned to Usagi, the Moon Princess smiled softly.
"The 'Akari no Kibo' is meant to be a beacon of hope for the dark times ahead, your majesty. Let this light shine in the darkness for all the children of Japan."
The Empress nodded and reverently accepted the box from Rei, and after another moment of contemplation on the magnificent jewel she carefully closed the lid. The Emperor and Empress bowed deeply to Usagi in gratitude for the gifts and the evening's agenda moved forward again.
Dinner was served almost immediately, much to Ranma and Usagi's delight. The young hero found himself seated across from the Emperor with Usagi on his left and Ami on his right. Ami's mother sat beside her, and Ranma's mother sat one seat further down. The seating arrangements had been carefully choreographed, and Ranma was having a devil of a time keeping a frown from his face at the message being sent.
He couldn't see her very well, but even from where he sat, Ranma could feel her unease filling the air. She hid it well, but every once in a while she would look down the table at a trio of severe looking women and her anxiety would spike. Ranma noted the women out of the corner of his eye and immediately felt on edge himself. If these were his only other relatives, then his mother's fears were justified. He snorted internally, maintaining the Soul of Ice, as he thought about the situation. No matter what they said or did, there was no way in hell he was going to give up his mother.
The meal proceeded with quiet, inane conversation. Ranma, focused as he was on maintaining his manners and worrying for his mother, did not participate in the discussion as much as he probably should have. When the main meal was finished, the large group retired to another room for desserts and a light tea. It was here that Ranma felt a shift in the atmosphere again. There was a new weight to the formality, most of which was directed towards Ranma and Usagi. The young man fully expected the Emperor to be the one to break the silence, but in the end he found himself being addressed by the Prime Minister.
"It is our hope that dinner was to your liking."
"It was wonderful, Mr. Prime Minister." Usagi smiled warmly and patted her stomach daintily. On anyone else, it would have been silly – but the girl made it look graceful and appropriate, rather than pedestrian. It went a long way to easing Ranma's nerves.
"You have honored us with beautiful gifts and with a most enjoyable evening, Serenity-dono."
The Prime Minister raised his tea cup in a toast to everyone in the room. Ranma immediately felt the sharks swimming around him and felt, more than saw, that the waters they found themselves in were very, very bloody.
"Sadly, this evening was not meant solely for pleasurable pursuits. The leadership of Japan is most concerned with the events that transpired yesterday afternoon; most specifically, the declaration of…intent, issued by your servant, Senshi Pluto."
Usagi nodded her understanding, but when the politician turned his attention to Ranma, the man was met with the Soul of Ice. Stormy blue-gray eyes locked with brown and a battle of wills ensued – one that Ranma won hands down. The Prime Minister masked his defeat by looking to the Emperor to pick up where he left off.
"The People of Japan are most concerned, Serenity-dono. I am most concerned." Akihito rested his hands on the table before him and looked at Usagi without the grandfatherly affection that had been there a moment before. Here before them was the true Symbol and Voice of Japan, regardless of what outsiders may or may not think. "Tell me true, Serenity-dono. Will we be fighting for our rights, sovereignty, and freedoms as you seek to re-establish your kingdom? Will we name you as an enemy, or an ally in this fight against Ahbrim Ur?"
"My Court and I have no desire to consider you or the People of Japan our enemies, Akihito-sama. At this point in time, our goal is to defeat the menace looming over the heads of all the children of Earth. Anything that happens in the distant future is meant to be just that – a concern for the future."
Akihito turned his attention to Ranma.
"And you, Saotome-dono?" The Prime Minister asked bluntly. "What are your intentions towards the people of the Earth?"
"I don't pick fights Minister Hata. I finish them." The Soul of Ice was so thick around Ranma that everyone in the room could see his breath. "You leave me and mine alone, and we won't have any problems."
"That is good to know." Akihito jumped in. "It is a relief that we can all sit at this table as friends."
Ranma nodded to the Emperor and his family, clearly spurning the Prime Minister and the other guests.
"In light of this friendship," Minister Hata scrambled to recover gracefully.
Ranma didn't like the guy. He felt oily. But more than that, he didn't like the man's political ideology. He seemed fair and had a nice public face, but some of the stuff Rei had said about him left a bad taste in his mouth. The man was a puppet of the Zaibatsu and his focus seemed to be the bottom line, rather than the people he represented. RAnma was leery of any agenda the man might push.
"In light of this friendship, I would like to offer the People of Japan an alternative to the growing civil unrest."
Here it comes. Ranma couldn't help but frown in anticipation.
"The government would like to formally acknowledge the power and history of the Senshi, making the stories of your past available for those who wish to learn more."
"But you will retain your authority and the people have heroes to look up to." Usagi added thoughtfully.
The Prime Minister nodded and gave her a smile that was meant to be acknowledging, but came off rather patronizing. Oh, that was going to come back and bite him in the rear. Usagi, well Serenity actually, hated it when you talked down to her. Ranma wanted to laugh as he saw her eyes flash and her left pinky twitch. The man was so much ground beef….
"That is an acceptable direction to follow, Hata-san. I am, however, very curious as to how you wish to utilize the Senshi as national heroes."
The Prime Minister seemed confused for a moment, but rallied when the Emperor nodded his head. Ma! Ranma hated all this politico crap, even more now that he knew what it all really meant. Damn Aramas' memories to hell and back!
"Well, there are a number of ways to approach this, Serenity-dono. Public campaigning and social events are one avenue that would certainly bolster the community's faith in your benevolence; while closer ties to the throne would be another that would reaffirm your status as Japanese citizens."
In other words…'We get the licensing and merchandizing contracts, and you get to be poster children for the government'
Ranma took a deep breath and held it. He had to at least give the man credit; his world had just been turned upside down, and he was doing his best to put it all back together in the most familiar terms he could get away with. The problem was, there was no closing Pandora's box this time. There was no making sense of any of this scientifically, philosophically, or whatever. There was only accepting and adapting. This wasn't going to end well. Ranma just knew it. They were going to try and play some spin game that was ultimately going to end up biting him in the butt.
"And just what type of ties are we speaking of, Hata-san?" Usagi's easy smile was long gone now, and Ranma could already see that her mind was racing. She probably already knew all the possible offers they had thought to invent, it was just a matter of which one he was going to pick to lead with.
"Familial ties would be the best, Serenity-dono." The Prime Minister put on his warmest smile, which only made Ranma's hackles rise higher when the man looked at him. "Due to his biological parents' actions and abuse, Saotome-dono has become a ward of the state; as such he can be adopted into any family or clan with a clean slate."
"I already got a family, Hata-san" Ranma growled.
"Sadly," The Prime Minister pointedly looked over at the "terrible trio" that claimed to be Ranma's aunts. "…the Saotome Clan has officially stricken Genma and Nodoka from the registry for the shame they brought upon the Clan."
Nodoka choked back a sob and Ranma found himself immediately comforting her, while openly glaring at Genma's sisters.
"Without a proper family to guide you, are you truly setting the right example for the youth of Japan?"
"Proper family…?" Ranma could only stare at the man incredulously. Was this guy serious? How in the hell could he call himself a diplomat?
"Forgive us, Saotome-dono." The Emperor interceded before Hata could screw things up any worse. "In light of the many events that have taken place, as well as the knowledge that has come to our attention, we realize that you have not had the opportunity to confront your family about these events."
"Damn straight I haven't. That doesn't mean that I won't in the future." He glared balefully at the trio of hags, who had the grace to look more than a little unsettled by Ranma's statement.
"Be that as it may, Saotome-dono, the Saotome matriarch has given her permission to allow you to be adopted by a worthy family; ostensibly, to repay the debt their Clan owes you for failing to protect your interests from such a traumatic childhood."
"Come again?" He couldn't have heard that right. The Emperor's face became grandfatherly again, and Ranma felt the genuine concern the man had for him.
"In light of everything that has happened to you, Saotome-dono, your aunts do not feel qualified to look after your best interests."
"So they're dumping me on someone else, rather than deal with all the headaches that come with me?" He snorted darkly and shook his head. "Not too surprising really, it fits the Saotome pattern after all."
Ranma's aunts looked affronted, and Ranma felt his mother wince in his arms.
"Well, thanks for the offer and all, but I already got me a perfectly fine mother." Nodoka's hands clenched nervously. "Just out of curiosity though, who was gonna get saddled with me?"
It was with no little surprise that Prince Naruhito stood and presented both he and his family to Ranma.
"It is our misfortune to be unable to bare anymore children, Saotome-dono." The admission hurt, but the Prince and his wife were stoic in the face of their pain, and that was something that Ranma could easily admire. "While it is still possible for a male heir to be born to one of my younger siblings, it would be our greatest honor to adopt you into our family."
Okay, Ranma hadn't been ready for this curve ball.
"But what would that really mean for Ranma?" Ami asked hesitantly.
"For all intents and purposes, Mizuno-san, he would become my heir."
Okay. Ranma really hadn't been ready for that little bombshell either.
"That is most magnanimous of you, Naruhito-sama." Pluto said. It was obvious that Ranma was a little too shell shocked to respond. "But why is the Royal Household extending such an unusual invitation?"
It wasn't that their reasons weren't crystal clear to everyone in the room, but Ranma needed a bit more time to collect himself and the question bought him the time necessary to get himself under control again.
"Frankly, Pluto-san, Saotome-dono's past makes him more than worthy of the honor. He has persevered throughout a horrendous amount of personal pressure and, from what I have seen of his conduct, he is a gracious and selfless individual that exemplifies what it truly means to be noble." Ranma looked to the floor, unable to hide the blush of embarrassment in his cheeks. "I will confess that I also see this as an opportunity to unify Japan, a chance to save face among the other world powers, and to appease the fears that are building all over the rest of the world due to the events at Tokyo Tower."
Akihito sighed and set his tea aside.
"You must understand, with the discovery of the Moon Colony, there are a number of fingers pointing at Japan – threatening to impose sanctions and institute all manner of other political pressures for our nation's apparent "betrayal of trust" and "aggressive stance" against the sovereignty of the world's other nations. We must find a way to diffuse this powder keg in light of the other concerns that we are facing."
"Ranma's adoption into the royal family will allay many fears." The Prime Minister took up the discussion again. "With the amount of power shown at Tokyo Tower, there are a number of wild and unfounded rumors floating around about secret mutagenic and eugenic programs, super soldiers and biological weapons of mass destruction. If some proof cannot be shown to the rest of the world that Japan is not interested in starting another World War, the other nations might just insist on a 'preemptive strike' of their own."
Usagi and many of the other Senshi gasped. It made sense to Ranma though. Paranoid people did stupid things. Paranoid people with large military budgets tended to act even stupider. The whole situation was FUBAR, and just waiting to burst at the slightest misstep. Man this sucked.
"Regardless, the Japanese people will suffer for the events at the Tower. The question before us now, is simply a matter of how much they are going to suffer. If the Senshi were to ally themselves with the government and allow the proper channels to diffuse the situation, it might just save the nation."
Hata shifted slightly, and Ranma could sense the man's duplicity building. Where the Emperor truly believed and endorsed what he was saying, it was obvious to Ranma's rusty senses that this man was in no way sincere. This was the token steak thrown to appease the guard dog.
"The Senshi would of course be granted a great deal for their cooperation." He motioned to one of the pretty aides that had stood at the back of the room to come forward. Ranma watched attentively as she handed out a number of fancy envelopes to select people, including himself.
"These are appointments from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology!" Ami gasped as she opened her envelope. "You're naming us living national treasures?"
"Well deserved appointments, all things considered." Hata replied with a smarmy grin. "For those that did not receive an appointment, other offers are being arranged to accommodate their talents and interests."
"You want us to become Show Ponies." Rei's face, hidden as it was behind her veil was unreadable, but the disgust carried clearly through her voice. The Prime Minister's face began to darken at the bluntness of Rei's assessment, but had no time to respond to the accusation before Serenity again entered the conversation.
"With all due respect your Majesty, Mr. Prime Minister - the other world governments have larger problems to worry about. The Rhakshasa, and by extension Ahbrim Ur, are not a localized threat. They have already attacked parts of China, and will no doubt have already begun to push outward to other nations as well. As attractive as these offers sound, and as wonderful as it would be to ally ourselves with the nation of our rebirth, we have an obligation to the whole world."
She looked to Ranma briefly before turning her attention back to the Emperor.
"I cannot and will not speak for Ranma. If he decides to become a member of the Imperial Family, then that is to be his choice and his choice alone. At best I will counsel him to at least think about the offer and follow what his heart tells him is best."
Uncertain, Ranma looked to his mother, Ami, and much to her surprise – Makoto, for their input. The women nodded, some more reluctantly than others. Ranma sighed and looked to the Emperor and his hopeful son.
"I'll think about it."
"That is all we can ask Saotome-dono." The Emperor smiled warmly and nodded. He then turned his attention back to Serenity. "And what of the rest of your Court, Serenity-dono?"
The Princess looked at her vassals and saw varying degrees of conflict in each of their faces, most especially Ami's as she stared at the envelop in her lap. With a deep sigh, she turned inward and began weighing things. Ranma could easily see the clash of desire versus necessity on her face, and so could the rest of the Senshi for that matter. In the end, there was no contest; they set aside their envelopes and bowed their heads to their Princess giving their answer. The weight evaporated from her spirit and she smiled sunnily.
"We cannot in good conscience favor one nation above all the world Akihito-sama, however we can and will continue to protect Japan against super-natural entities, regardless of Ranma's choice."
The Emperor's smile dimmed slightly, but he nodded. The Prime Minister however, outright frowned and shook his head.
"A rash decision…" Hata started to press.
"But one that will be honored and respected nonetheless." The Emperor interjected. Ranma was again impressed with how well the old man shut the idiot down. "It is our hope that you will change your mind after having had more time to think on our offer. For the time being, our government will do its best to persuade the other nations of the world of its peaceful intentions while we await Saotome-dono's response."
No pressure. Ranma grimaced deep inside.
"Now, let me assure you that this proposition will remain on the table indefinitely as an offering of our appreciation for all that you are doing on behalf of the people of Japan and the rest of our world. Should there be a counter offer that you would like us to consider for assuaging the fears of the world community, please feel free to direct yourself to the Prime Minister's office."
"Thank you for your understanding, your majesty." Serenity bowed her head to the older man.
"No thanks are necessary, my dear. However, maybe you can save an old man from the ire of his granddaughters." He grinned mischievously and nodded his head to a fidgeting group of excited and impatient young girls. Ami giggled as her princess leaned forward and shared a wink with her fellow princesses.
"I think we can do that your majesty."
The Emperor's granddaughters "squeed" in girlish delight and swarmed the Senshi, effectively closing the official part of the evening. It didn't lighten the load on his shoulders at all, but seeing how happy his potential relatives were around Ami made Ranma smile.
The rest of the evening was spent with people flitting from person to person exchanging small talk and generally getting to know one another. For the most part, Ranma remained a silent pillar, standing next to his mother. It wasn't at all subtle that no one chose to speak with Nodoka, and it took Ranma's mother a good quarter hour to get the hovering Yuriko to shuffle off and mingle. She tried the same with her son, but Ranma refused to budge, stating plainly that he was fine with not having to listen to people wag their tongues at him.
Ten minutes before the ordeal was set to end Nodoka and Ranma were approached by the Emperor, the Empress, Prince Naruhito, and his wife. All wore genuine smiles that made the tension in Ranma's shoulders relax without him realizing it.
"Saotome-dono, Nodoka-san," The Emperor was polite and didn't stumble at all as he addressed Ranma's mother, which went a long way with the young man. "It was a pleasure to have you here with us tonight."
Nodoka bowed deeply to the Emperor, but let Ranma speak on her behalf rather than saying anything at all. That, in and of itself, bothered Ranma greatly – but not as much as the sudden spike of cancerous despair that rose in her aura. He glanced at her worriedly from the corner of his eye, noting that she had composed her face into a polite, yet differential, mask that was displaying no real emotion at all. He allowed his attention to return to the people in front of him, but his thoughts remained with his mother.
"Thanks for havin' us your majesty. The food was great."
"I will pass your compliments on to the kitchen staff." The Emperor chuckled. "They will be pleased to know that their efforts were appreciated."
"Saotome-dono," The Empress stepped forward and placed a gentle hand on his forearm. "Would it be permissible for me to borrow Nodoka-san from you for a moment?"
"Sure…I mean, if she wants to."
Ranma looked to his mother who nodded and immediately stepped away with the Empress Michiko and Princess Masako, Naruhito's wife, into a small corner of the room. The alcove was out of the sight of others, but still visible to Ranma; he made no secret of his concern for his mother's well being. Naruhito and his father, stepped to either side of Ranma, further shielding the women from the rest of the room's guests.
"Michiko wanted to speak with your mother earlier, but was detained by your Aunts." Akahito's voice was quiet.
"No doubt they were telling her all sorts of crap about, Mom." Ranma growled.
"Most assuredly." The monarch nodded stoically. "But Michiko-chan is not easily swayed by gossip mongers and their ilk. She is a stickler for the truth, and will not stop until she has found it. Isn't that right Hiro-kun?"
The Crowned Prince chuckle and nodded, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly.
"You can't lie to Mom. She has a way of always dragging the truth out of you, whether you want her to or not." He shook his head fondly. "She's a force of nature."
"All mothers are." Ranma couldn't help but smile at the thought of Nodoka and that damn bokken of hers. He absently rubbed the top of his head at a phantom lump that she had given him not too long ago.
"Truer words have never been spoken." Akahito clapped Ranma on the shoulder and the three of them laughed quietly.
Ranma watched his mother break down into tears and started forward, only to stop short when, not only Empress Michiko, but Princess Masako as well, wrapped their arms around Nodoka and comfort her. He relaxed visibly this time, knowing that she was in good hands. His companions looked away into the crowd and Ranma turned with them, focusing on Ami as she talked with Prince Fumihito and his wife Princess Kiko. His thoughts though, were still with his mother.
"She got a raw deal with Pops." Ranma sighed and rolled his neck. "The guy's an idiot, but he can spin a lie like no one else. I don't blame her for what happened. People tend to get caught up in Pop's stupidity real easy – I mean…it's all a game you know? Up until everything blows up in yer face and you end up suffering for all the stupid crap that Pop's set you up to catch."
"For what it is worth, I hope that you know we are serious." Naruhito said. "We would love to have the privilege of calling you our son."
"I don't get it." Ranma turned and faced the man. "Why are you pushing this?"
Naruhito sighed and lowered his head, but it was the Emperor who finally answered.
"You will find, Saotome-dono, that a ruler of men is as much a prisoner as he is a leader." At Ranma's confused look, Akahito smiled and patted the young man on the back. "People expect great things of those in power. Sometimes…too great."
"And people are expectin' this arrangement to go through?"
"Frankly, Saotome-dono, they are desperately pushing for it to happen."
"Why? I mean, why would anyone want broken goods?"
"Is that how you see yourself child?" Akihito asked.
"I ain't much ta look at yer Highness. I might not be smart like Ami-chan, but I ain't stupid either. There are plenty of other kids out there more deserving than me."
Naruhito sighed and shook his head.
"You are a hero Ranma-dono. Plainly put, you've become an icon of preservation, one that people will look to for inspiration. Please don't sell yourself short."
Ranma shrugged and nodded.
"That still doesn't tell me why you want me."
Naruhito frowned and looked back to his wife.
"May I be blunt Ranma-dono?" Ranma nodded once, giving the prince his full attention. "My wife and I are having difficulties having children. It is getting to the point of desperation for us…for Masako-chan. We want a family, even if we're unable to raise a child of our own from birth, we want to know the joy that so many others have experienced."
Ranma frowned and looked out to the gaggle of girls talking animatedly with the Senshi. It tore at his heart but, at the same time, how could he really accept?
"Thank you for bein' honest and up front with me. It shows me just how serious about this you and yer wife are. I respect your reasons, but I'll need ta sleep on it." He finally conceded. "Gimme until tomorrow morning, and I'll have an answer for you."
"That's all Masako and I can ask for Ranma-dono." He placed a warm hand on Ranma's shoulder. "Know that my wife and I would gladly call you son, and that we would do our utmost to ensure that your mother continued to be a part of your life."
Ranma nodded absently, feeling the weight on his shoulders become just a little heavier. It was going to be a long sleepless night.
The dream was always the same. For weeks now he'd suffered its frustrating imagery in helpless confusion. The power of the Dreamers was shackled, bound to their slumbering forms and fed by the illusions they were living. Herb knew them for who they were – after all, one cannot deny the call of Blood. These majestic dragons were all prisoners of their own minds, chained by Beryl through the power of the great demon that she served. They were the first to fall in that Great War. He couldn't understand all of his dreams, but that was one fact that had been quite plain.
Someone was coming to wake them.
That someone was here already, standing over the sea of sleeping forms.
"They are magnificent, aren't they?"
Herb didn't know why, but the woman's voice was familiar. She wasn't someone he'd met recently, of that he was certain. But there was something backing her, some sense of presence that he knew intimately – like the voice of a popular singer, or the familiarity of a face you might see regularly. He walked up to her side, idly noting that in this dreamscape she was dressed in a gown of dragon scales and wore a corona of light. Her mere company was soothing to him.
"Yes, they are."
"I am going to wake them now, Prince Herb of the Musk. They have been sleeping for ever so long."
"Yes. They have."
"What do you think they would like for breakfast?" Her tone was almost motherly in its concern. "I should think they will be hungry."
"I don't rightly know, Lady. I suppose they will be hungry." The woman sighed and frowned slightly, and Herb felt strangely unsettled that she was upset. He reached out his hand to her shoulder and gently squeezed. "I don't think you have to worry about it though. I'm sure they can all cook for themselves."
What an odd thing to say, let alone think.
"I hope you are right." She worried her lower lip, and then nodded resolutely. "We'll just have to make due."
"Yes, Lady Kasumi." Herb agreed. He had no idea how he knew her name, it was just there. It suited her though. He watched as she took a dainty step forward and ever so gently whispered into a soft breeze that swept past.
"My darlings, the Dawn is here."
And just like that, two hundred million pairs of dragon eyes snapped open. And the universe was awash in their singing voices after a ten thousand year nap. Herb's blood rushed, his heart pounded, and his own voice joined theirs.
After all, there was no such thing as a part dragon.
Either you were, or you weren't.
And then, after so, so very long, the dream was done.
Mousse looked at Ryouga, Phau Set, and Xian Pu thoughtfully.
"Did you feel that?"
"Who couldn't?" Ryouga snarked.
"Feel what?" Phau Set asked.
"You know what that means right?"
"What are you talking about Mu Tse?" Xian Pu growled.
"Road trip?" Ryouga smirked.
"What is going on?" Phau Set whined.
"Road Trip." Mousse nodded.
Xian Pu drew a wicked looking punch dagger from…somewhere, and pressed it against Mousse's crotch.
"Tell me what is going on. Now." The Amazon princess growled.
"Ancestors, Woman! You are such a tease!" The blind man fanned himself, only to squeak as his former crush pressed a little harder than necessary. "We need to find Ukyou and Shinnousuke."
"Why?" She growled.
"Because it's time for them to be found."
"Stop being cryptic, damn it!" Phau Set demanded.
"It's not my fault! It's just the way it is!"
"Why do you need to find them?" Xian Pu growled.
"Ranma needs them." Ryouga answered with a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders.
"Fine!" The Amazon huffed. "Let me get my things and we can leave."
"You can't come." Mousse's voice was quiet. Ryouga shook his head.
"What?" Xian Pu's voice was flat; that was never a good sign.
"Idiot." Ryouga clucked. "You shouldn't have said anything. We could have slipped away while she was packing."
"And have her castrate me when I got back, I think not!" Mousse countered. "I might be blind, but I'm not stupid. Better to face her wrath now, than to let it simmer while we're away."
"You are a braver man than I."
"True." Mousse nodded sagely.
"Someone had better explain. Quickly." Xian Pu hissed. Her aura was starting to cause the asphalt to bubble.
"Bluntly? You can't come because someone needs to guard Kasumi Tendo." Mousse rolled his neck until it popped.
"Why? Because she's the one that just woke every dragon in existence. Why? Because she's the reincarnation of the Dragon Kings soul-mate. Why? Because without her, killing the Rhakshasa is going to be a thousand times harder than it should; and without them we're all likely to become soul food for a bunch of demons. Is that a clear enough picture for you?"
"Yeah, oh." Mousse sighed and placed his hands on Phau Set's shoulders. "Save the House Wife. Save the world."
"Huh?" Phau Set furrowed her brow in confusion.
"Damn it. No one understands my Pop Culture references."
"It's because half the stuff that spews from your mouth hasn't even been invented yet." Ryouga pointed out.
"Moron." The former lost boy grabbed the front of Mousse's robes and drug him off. When Phau Set ran after them, she wasn't as surprised as she thought she should be, when she noted that they were no where to be found.
Sleep did not come easily to Ranma. In fact it hadn't come at all. The weight of the choice before him was just as damning as the conundrum of the Fiancé Wars had ever been – if anything, it was twice as difficult. His only comfort was Ami-chan's presence and her willingness to act as a sounding board for him. She had promised to sustain whatever decision he made. That type of unconditional support was rare, bordering on unique, in his life. It made him realize where his priorities truly lay though.
So, with his decision made, he roused Ami from her place on his lap, spoke with Setsuna and thanked her again for postponing whatever fieldtrip she'd arranged with Orima Tene, and then called the number he'd been given by the Emperor's staff. An hour later the limos were back and they had made their way back to the palace. More dog and pony stuff ensued, with the Paparazzi stealing bits and pieces of their lives, before they were again led into a receiving room. The Emperor and his wife were seated at the head of a table, with Naruhito seated to their right and the Prime Minister seated to their left. Ranma bowed respectfully to the Royal family, absently snubbing the P.M. and earning himself a glare in return. The rest of the entourage followed suit before sitting as directed, in the seats provided for them.
"We welcome back, Ranma-dono, and pray you had a restful night." The Emperor smiled warmly.
"I don't know about restful, but I feel less burdened." Ranma admitted.
"That is a good thing." He noted. "It is my prayer that you have brought us good news."
"Again, I'm not sure what I have to say will be good or bad. I guess it all depends on where you're sitting." Ranma glanced at his mother. Nodoka's body was rigid and stoic. "I thought long and hard about what you asked of me, Sir. I weighed the possible outcomes and have come to the decision to accept your offer…"
Nodoka winced, but showed no other sign of emotion. The Emperor and his son looked very pleased, but it was the Prime Minister Hata's smug expression that made Ranma's stomach churn angrily. Ranma's next words wiped the look from the man's face completely.
"…on the condition that you grant my mother a new name and publicly exonerate her before her peers to repair the dishonor the government brought upon her."
"And what dishonor would that be?" The Prime Minister growled hotly. Ranma completely ignored him.
"Your majesty, do you consider yourself a perfect parent?"
The Emperor shook his head.
"No, I cannot say that I am. I believe all parents have made their share of mistakes."
"Well, if you, as the leader of our nation are not perfect, then how is it that your government can hold my mother to such an impossible standard?" Ranma looked over to see tears leaking from the corners of his mother's eyes. "My mother was a young woman, married to a charismatic con-artist. That man was the epitome of disreputable, and yet people were still taken in by him – even when they knew exactly what he was! My mother was a young woman when my father stole me from her, and after talking with her I cannot hold her accountable for the decisions she made while under the duress of trying to keep her family together."
"Mothers in this day and age do not hold their children's lives hostage with seppuku contracts!" The Prime Minister slammed his fist down on the table.
"And governments shouldn't be stealing a woman's child, destroying her reputation, and ruining her life – all because she made a mistake in judgment!" Ranma growled. "At worst, she should be receiving counseling! I am in no danger from her, and she is not a danger to the world around her! Yet, you have all made her out to be some slavering demoness, ready to cut children's heads off at the drop of a hat! Worse still, she will never be able to hold down a reputable job, and the possibility of finding another husband is non-existent! She explained her actions and the reasons behind them, and yet I have not seen any of those portions of her transcripts being played out in the media.
"No one's talking about the fact that Genma was actually the bastard that wrote up the agreement in the first place! No one is talking about the atrocities, like the Neko-ken, Genma put me through with his training regime. Yet, you're viciously attacking the woman that gave birth to me, calling her 'Head-hunter Mom' and all other kinds of vile crap, when in reality it was Genma that was the abusive parent."
Ranma narrowed his eyes at the Prime Minister, making the man shift uncomfortably.
"My mother was as much a victim as he was, and as such deserves a chance to make amends and correct her mistakes. The fact that her family abandoned her, and her government stabbed her in the back like a coward while pandering to public opinion, has been the greatest betrayal ever. If you can't see fit to reunite a mother to her son, even if it's only in spirit, then I want nothing to do with the Imperial Family, or Japan. Either way, Nodoka will always be my mom, in name or not – Japanese or not."
The Emperor sighed and folded his hands before him. The troubled frown on his face told Ranma he was taking the matter seriously.
"What do you intend to do if your request is not granted?"
Ranma shrugged and looked to Usagi.
"You've already got another family that loves you unconditionally and a nation, however small, that will honor you."
He nodded thankfully and ran his hand through his unruly hair.
"I guess, your Majesty, if the government can't abide by this small request, then they can find another puppet to join the kingdoms. I won't lie; being Naruhito-sama's son sounds all sorts of awesome, and if nothing else, I had hoped to make both he and Masako-sama happy as their son. But what kind of son would I be, if I turned my back on the woman that gave me life?" Ranma pointed to Mamoru. "If you're looking to 'join the houses', he'd make a good Pinocchio."
That got a rousing stir out of everyone, especially Mamoru. Usagi urgently leaned over and whispered into Setsuna's ear. The Senshi of Time stood from her chair and bowed to the Emperor.
"Her Majesty wishes for me to state that even should his Majesty's proposal be accepted, that there can be no Omiai between Ranma and Princess Serenity though. In her stead, her Majesty chooses Ami Mizuno, the Senshi of Mercury to represent the Moon Kingdom's interests. This will bind the two political entities through marriage, as was the original intent."
Ranma was stunned, and looking over at Ami's blushing face, he could see that she was obviously stunned as well. Yuriko and Nodoka discreetly wave little victory signs next ton one another.
"Why, if we may inquire, is her Majesty declining Ranma-dono as a potential husband?"
"Due simply to the fact that the Moon Kingdom has always found incest reprehensible."
That seemed to shock the Japanese politicians, all of whom looked at Ranma and Usagi and turned green at the thought. The Emperor nodded and, with the blessing of Ranma and Usagi, took a moment to speak with the Prime Minister and their legal council. After a couple of minutes of him shaking his head and frowning in disgust, turned to face Ranma again. The resignation in his voice spoke volumes to the Senshi, and Ranma could only square his shoulders and meet the inevitable head on.
"I ain't a Saotome anymore. They abandoned me, and I reject them."
The Emperor nodded stoically, but it was Prime Minister Hata that spoke.
"Ranma-dono. While I respect your position, and admire your compassion and ability to forgive, you must realize that Japan is a nation of laws. Criminal negligence of a minor is a very serious offense, and cannot be so lightly put aside. We value our children greatly, and your childhood was nothing short of a nightmare. An example must be made, and a precedent must be set to safe guard future lives. We cannot exonerate your mother of her crime. If we did, we would be undermining Justice."
"Justice without Mercy is Tyranny." Ami glared at the men and shook her head.
"Endangering the life of a child is demonic." The Prime minister countered. "We are willing to give your mother a new name, but the charges against her must stand for the good of the nation."
"This is stupid! It's a bloody apology!"
"We will not condone child abuse, Ranma-dono. It's plain and simple."
"It was a mistake! A practical joke that got out of hand. Can't you see that?"
"Mistake or not, a parent must be responsible."
"Genma duped her! He's the one that did all that crap, not her!"
"There is sufficient evidence that says otherwise, Ranma-dono."
Ranma snorted and shook his head. He crossed his arms and glared at the tabletop. He saw his mother's hand come to rest over his hands, and he looked up. Her eyes were filled with tears, but she was smiling.
"Ranma. You make me so proud. In spite of everything that has happened to you, you've turned out to be a wonderful young man."
Ranma could see where this was headed and shook his head. He started to object, but Nodoka's finger over his lips silenced him.
"As grateful as I am that you are defending me, you must see that this is a singular opportunity. I've wanted nothing but the best for you since the day you were born, but I've never been able to give you what you needed when you needed it the most. I'm asking you not to pass up this offer because of me."
Ranma stubbornly shook his head.
"I set my terms, Mom. I've lost a lot because of Pops – my childhood, my manhood, Akane. I ain't about to let his stupidity take you away too. They can pander to the media and prop up their careers with a few sound bites and a scapegoat, but I ain't gonna support them in this travesty they call justice."
"But they were my actions that caused this." Nodoka pointed out.
"Maybe, but the old man set the stage, and he played you like a pro. He's paying for what he did, but you've suffered enough. I ain't budging on this."
Nodoka opened her mouth to continue the argument, but Ranma held up his hand effectively silencing her.
"Is there nothing else we might offer to change your mind? Leniency? Monetary reparation?" Hata asked. Ranma just glared at the man as an icy film began to spread out across the table top in a ring around his body. "Well, erhm. I'm sorry that we have been unable to come to an agreement here."
"Yeah, me too." Ranma grumbled. "I can't say that I didn't expect it."
"Ranma-dono, please be reasonable! Think about the consequences of your choice and how it will impact the people of Japan." Naruhito implored.
"Yer Majesty, the people of Japan ain't done a whole lot for me. Hell, most of them have only added to my headaches. So you'll have to excuse me when I say that Japan can screw itself!"
"Now see here!" Hata barked. Ranma spun on him so quickly and violently that the man found himself stumbling backwards out of his chair. The young warrior's aura was visible and flaring, causing the security detail in the room to tense and draw weapons.
"NO! You see here, you slimy little prick! You want me to pull your fat outta the fire, so that you can save face with the rest of the world. In that, you're no better than Genma. I didn't ask for all the crap that happened at Tokyo Tower. It just did. I didn't ask ta be Aramas flamin' Drumheller, but I am. Because of that, and because of an oath that I took to protect those that couldn't protect themselves, I got a responsibility to everyone on this stupid mud ball. Not just Japan, but everyone."
"I will not tolerate this disrespect! After all we've offered to do for you!" Hata's bluster was more an attempt to regain a position of authority than to save face.
"I don't give a damn what you'll tolerate or not. Besides, what have you done for me? Destroyed my family and stolen my home from me? Tried to bribe me with empty titles and glitter? The Royal Family at least has been honest and upfront with me. You…You're no different than any of the other lowlifes I've had to deal with throughout my crappy life. You're just lucky that Serenity and I don't pack up and leave you to Ur."
"You wouldn't dare abandon so many innocents." Hata's smile was smug and feral at the same time.
"Innocents? No. You're right about that, but you ain't no innocent and I'm seriously considering dumping your butt here and now. Keep pushing me and you can fight the Rhakshasa on your own."
"We don't need their aid, Majesty!" A general named Omura roared from behind the Emperor. "Between the Americans and our other western allies we will have more than enough power to defeat this…Ahbrim Ur, person."
"Sure." Ranma snorted. "Conventional weapons don't work jackass! Yeah, you go on and shoot these guys with your guns – try and blow them up with your bombs. You'll be watching the bullets zipping out the other end and the wounds close up right behind. They'll re-grow their limbs right before your very eyes! Then, if you're lucky, you might not actually survive long enough to watch them eat you piece by piece."
"Ranma!" Usagi called out tersely.
"They think they're ready to fight, then let them fight, Serenity. It's no skin off my nose." Ranma threw up his hands. "When they realize that they're in over their heads, let'em remember today. Let `em remember that they could have avoided the entire problem at the cost of a little pride in upholding decency, instead of playing games and trying to snowball us into selling ourselves like whores to their agendas."
"Are you withdrawing your promise of aid then?" Hata asked coldly.
"No, we are not." Usagi stated firmly. "Ranma-dono does not speak for the body of the Moon Kingdom."
"Excuse me, Serenity-sama."
Usagi frowned and looked back to Sailor Pluto.
"With all due respect your Majesty, Aramas was your mother's first-born. Therefore, according to the laws of succession, he is next in line for the throne. And unless he abdicates, he has as much authority to speak on behalf of the Moon Kingdom as you do."
Usagi blinked in shock as her reality took another mighty blow. Ranma just looked smugly at the suddenly nervous heads of state.
"So you were for real at the Tower? All that 'Emperor of the Earth and Moon' stuff was legit?"
"Yes, Highness." Pluto lowered her head demurely, mostly to hide her growing grin.
"And I can tell these guys to go screw themselves and the Senshi will do as I ask?"
Pluto nodded and bowed.
"Yes, your Majesty. But, you and Serenity-sama must be in unified accord concerning all matters that affect the Kingdom as a whole. War and the defense of the Kingdom's citizenry, are both examples of such. Until an official coronation has been held, Serenity-sama and Ranma-sama together, speak for the people of the Moon Kingdom. Your words are law, but until you can come to a consensus, the debate might make any intervention on behalf of the Japanese government a moot point. If Ur were to strike, any aid we might extend to the people of Japan would very likely come too late."
Pluto bowed and stepped back to resume her seat, leaving everyone looking between Ranma and Usagi. The blonde girl looked up at Ranma pleadingly.
"We cannot let them face this alone, Ranma! Please! They wouldn't stand a chance!"
Ranma glared at the worried men and growled. He shook his head and rolled his eyes.
"Fine. But they can take their National Treasure crap, and their adoption and shove it. I ain't having anything to do with it." Ranma tossed his head in Mamoru's direction. "Let the penguin be their poster boy if he wants. This will give Japan its tie to the Silver Millennium and an ambassador to the New Moon Kingdom. As for me, I'm done playing their games."
"But Ranma, that makes us Ronin!" Nodoka said.
"Ronin-schmonin!" Ranma waved her concerns off. "I earned myself a name ten thousand years ago, and that name will do just fine now. We're our own family now, and from here on out we will make our own honor."
"You have made a fine declaration for yourself…." Akihito smiled sadly.
"Drumheller. Ranma Aramas Drumheller." He stood proudly, looking steadily into the eyes of the men before him. "Son of Serenity, Empress of the Moon. Son of Nodoka, dedicated Mother."
Akihito nodded and inclined his head.
"As I said, you made a fine declaration for yourself, Ranma-dono. I am saddened that I could not have you as a grandson. You would have done great things for the Japanese people."
Ranma inclined his head.
"I must ask if you are officially renouncing your Japanese citizenship for that of the Moon Kingdom?"
"I guess I am."
The Emperor inclined his head again.
"And the other Senshi?"
Usagi flinched and looked to Pluto desperately. The Senshi of Time stood and with a nod from Usagi spoke on her behalf.
"The Senshi will make their intent clear by week's end."
"The Japanese people will respect your decision, and hope that we might be able to remain friends. I will extend my earlier invitation of adoption to you, Chiba-san, in the hopes of cementing a friendly relationship with the Moon Kingdom. I will not press your choice, as I did with Ranma-dono, but I ask that you come to a decision soon so that we might appease the fears of our people and the people of the world."
Mamoru bowed deeply to the Emperor.
"I will have an answer for you by tomorrow morning."
"That will be sufficient." Akihito looked to Usagi and smiled. "Serenity-dono, you have a truly formidable family. It is my hope that we can be good friends in the days ahead."
"That is our wish as well, your Majesty. It would be an honor to have the Japanese people as our allies, instead of the alternative. In light of the threat we are facing, the strength of our unity will determine the cost of our success."
"Well said, your Highness. Well, said. Would I be remiss in asking for an official affirmation of our alliance?"
Usagi bowed her head in thought, discreetly looking to Pluto for help. The Senshi of Time stepped forward again.
"It would please the Moon Kingdom greatly to accommodate you, your Majesty. In the interest of time, may we request a future meeting to discuss and negotiate terms?"
"That would be fine, Pluto-san. Serenity-dono. Until the details are finalized, we will allow you and your families to shelter within our borders in exchange for your generous protection."
Usagi spared a glance at Ranma who nodded once and looked away. Usagi smiled and bowed to the Emperor and the Prime Minister.
"Thank you for accommodating us, your Majesty. We can only hope that our services will not be necessary for a very long time."
"We share your hopes." The Emperor stood and everyone followed suit. "We look forward to a bright and prosperous future together."
Mamoru stormed from the Imperial Palace in a rage. Ranma, Ami, and Ranma's mother were speaking quietly, seemingly oblivious to his presence. Usagi and Pluto were in deep discussion behind him, planning what to do next it seemed. Events were spiraling out of control faster than he could keep up. One moment he was studying to be a doctor, and the next he was in the center of a political tug of war.
Damn Ranma! Why couldn't he just take the Emperor's offer? Even if he didn't take the offer, why'd he have to shove it off on Mamoru? He didn't want to be a member of the Imperial Family! It was bad enough being the "Prince of Earth" or the "Consort." He didn't need the headache of another high profile calling on top of everything else. The more he thought about it, the angrier it made him.
Ranma's group paused for a moment and then broke up. Ranma went one way, and Ami and Nodoka went the other. Mamoru took the presented opportunity to let Ranma know exactly how he felt about the position the other young man had forced him into. He reached out to grab Ranma's shoulder, only to find his world turned upside down…literally.
"You got a problem, Chiba?"
Mamoru tried to right himself, but Ranma held him securely against the wall.
"Yeah…why'd you dump all this crap in my lap? I'm not your enemy. You've been busting my chops ever since Tokyo Tower. What did I do to you to piss you off so bad?"
Ranma let the taller man go and pulled him to his feet.
"What the hell are you talking about?" The event at Tokyo Tower had done wonders for patching up the spotty memories of the Senshi, but there were still holes.
"Endymion's boys led Beryl's assault. I killed the Outer Knights myself, but those other cowards…the ones closest to you, escaped. I told Isis to kill you when she and the other Senshi went back to the capital. Apparently she didn't believe me when I told her that you and yours were traitors."
"Those bastards betrayed me first!"
"Yeah. Sure. All of the Knights just defected to Beryl's forces and you didn't know anything about it." Ranma rolled his eyes. "Okay, say I believe you. How are you going to explain your little romp on the dark side when Beryl broke through the Seal?"
"She bound me with magic."
"Typical excuse." Ranma rolled his neck. "And what about all this coming to the battle late crap, not to mention all the sniping from a distance. The Endymion I trained with wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty. He wasn't the type to spout a bunch of drivel, while the woman he professed to love was in danger!"
A finger, jabbing painfully into the center of Mamoru's chest, nailed each accusation home.
"Tell you what I think Chiba. I think you were Beryl's boy-toy. I think you were playing us from the get-go. And when my mother dusted the whore, you got sent forward with everyone else on accident. And then, when Serenity took the skanky witch to the cleaners, you were left high and dry without a power base or back up to pull your butt out of the fire."
"Am I? What are you going to do? You're in too deep, with no way out. What are you going to do, but kick back and hitch a ride to the high life? It ain't Beryl's style of 'walk-all-over-em-till-they're-dead,' but hey…power's power right?"
"It's not like that at all."
"Then why don't you tell me what it is like?" Ranma growled. "You gave me your solemn oath! You promised me you would protect her! And here we are now, with Serenity playing at being Xena Warrior Princess while you prance around like some sort of damn fairy, tossing roses at the bad guys!"
"Who are you to judge me?" Mamoru hissed.
"I was your best friend."
Ranma turned away and started walking down the street again. Mamoru ran to catch up with him. He wasn't certain why, but Ranma's words struck a deep chord in him. Memories of wild adventures, hairy escapes, and lots of laughter bubbled to the forefront of his mind. It was the first time he'd ever willingly embraced the distant memories of his past.
"It was hard when Beryl returned." Mamoru looked to Ranma, but the other man said nothing as he walked. "I would be studying or sleeping, and then I would blank out. I'd lose hours on end, and not understand why. It was pretty scary, up until I found out what was really going on. Then things got terrifying. The guy I'd grown up being was being supplanted by a memory…a ghost. I didn't know who I was."
Ranma grunted, so Mamoru continued.
"I was constantly fighting myself, but after Beryl…after Beryl, I came to terms with life…at least a little bit. Then Chibi-Usa showed up, and I'm suddenly a father."
"What? You think it is easy finding out you're 'destined' to be with this klutzy, immature girl who drains your savings every time you go out on a date?"
"She's not so klutzy or immature now, is she?" Ranma grinned.
"No. No, she's not." There was no way to keep the love he felt for Usagi from his voice. "She's grown up quite a bit in the last year."
Ranma stopped suddenly and grabbed Mamoru by the throat. In one swift move, the pig-tailed martial artist had his companion's feet a full foot off the ground.
"Grown up or not, you ain't going to touch her until you prove yourself to me. No huggin', no kissin', and I swear to Heaven and Hell nothin' else! You so much as flirt with her…!" Ranma's eyes narrowed and the crescent moon on his brow shimmered to life before Mamoru's wide, uncertain eyes. "You get one chance Endymion, or Chiba, or whatever combination of the two you decide to end up being. Just one chance. You screw up, and I'm going to bury you so hard and fast that it will take ten Guinzuisho to pull you back together."
Ranma lowered him ever so slowly back to his feet, but he didn't let go of the other man's throat.
"Are we clear?"
"Crystal." Mamoru croaked.
Ranma nodded once and released Chiba's throat. The taller man massaged where Ranma's hand had been and looked into the stormy depths of those terribly intense eyes.
"Why the second chance?"
"Because, either you're an incredible actor or you actually love her. If it's the first, you'll slip up sooner or later and I can rip your heart out with a clear conscience. If it's the second…well, you made her happy once. I'd like to see her smile like that again."
"How do I gain your trust back?"
"By being the man I knew." Ranma paused and looked up at the sky. "No. By being better than the man I knew."
"That's a pretty tall order." Mamoru joked. Ranma snorted and rolled his eyes. "Seriously. What do you expect from me? I mean look at this mess we're in! How in the Hell am I going to meet your expectations, with all of this crap happening?"
"For starters, lose the tuxedo. You look like a fruitcake." Ranma grinned. "The roses should go too. They might have been fun and romantic…" The martial artist made googly-eyes. "But they're a waste of energy. Endymion would have died before throwing a rose at one of his opponents. The guy I remember had this thing for hitting hard and fast from the side, then raining nine kinds of hell down on his enemies in a brazen frontal assault while they were trying to regroup."
"Sounds like I was pretty intense."
The clock on his desk read two thirty five in the morning. The junior aid of China's highest ranked military officer shuffled the initial reports on the slaughter that had occurred at the missile base. He never even felt the explosion tear his body asunder, as Ahbrim Ur's arcane nuclear weapon detonated three hundred feet from where he sat. As a consolation, neither did the rest of Beijing, Hong Kong, and Moscow. The simultaneous attacks on the political and financial institutions of Washington D.C., Rome, London, and Switzerland by the Rhakshasa, made certain that the world knew the touch of Chaos.
There was no radiation or fallout from the explosions, just massive amounts of damage and a great deal of fire. The force of the blasts were a thousand times stronger and further reaching than the Hiroshima standard. The results were extraordinary, cracking the mantle in places and unleashing a pyroclastic catastrophe and a series of earthquakes that would have been an extinction event, had the arcane forces tied to the device not healed the land in its wake. As it was, the "Pacific Ring of Fire" still felt the brunt of the assault, initiating earthquakes and setting of volcanic chain reactions all across the region. The resulting cataclysm would be felt for years. Where once there had been cities, now there were only grassy plains.
And this was just his opening salvo.
The terror was absolute, and the televised massacre from the cities besieged by the demons was unprecedented. And true to Ranma's prophetic words, conventional weapons had absolutely no effect on the beasts. In the span of an hour, Ur controlled mainland China. When the clock had marked an hour and fifteen minutes, the surviving governments of the United States and her Western allies were reeling from the blows, uncertain of who had initiated the attack. Five minutes later, Ur had hijacked every communications satellite in orbit to deliver a message.
"I am Ahbrim Ur, Lord and Master of Terra, true King of Heaven and Earth. Prepare the way for my ascendance, for I am come."
(oo0/8/0oo)End Chapter 11